3 Things I Didn't Expect as a New Business Owner
I've mentioned before that I became unemployable once I opened and ran a successful daycare in 2007. If you don't know the story, you can read it here. Long story short, I had two kids with one on the way and my entire paycheck as an employee would go directly to childcare if I went back to work after the third one was born and that just wasn't smart money. So, I opened a daycare and within the first year, not only did I have a healthy waitlist but by the time I closed the doors permanently 6 years later, I had managed 2 part-time assistants, a substitute (because people get sick and life continues) and the growth of the business - enabling my little in home daycare to consistently achieve over $50K in annual revenue (say what??). It was a great way to solve my childcare problem and also make a nice buck from home so I can actually be with my kids since, you know, I had them.
Back then, I didn't have a lot of resources about being a daycare provider other than what the government provided in licensing and laws that needed to be met and followed. So, today, we're talking about what I wish I knew before I opened the business and maybe bring up some topics that may apply to your small business/work from home dream.
3 Things I Didn't Expect as a New Business Owner
- Longest Hours Everrrr. My oldest was 7 years old by the time the daycare opened it's doors so when I was in the planning stage, using my own experience with daycares I used for my kids was key. One daycare we used closed at 5:30pm and charged for late pick ups. This would've been fine except I got out of work at 5pm and almost always got there after 5:30pm so I either had to get help picking him up or move him to a different daycare if I didn't want to pay those extra fees. Another daycare he was in was open until 6:30pm, allowing me to pick up groceries or run a quick errand before picking him up - which was sometimes a good transition from work to mom mode. Taking my location into consideration, which was about 15 minutes away from the freeway and possible work hours, I chose my business hours to be from 7am - 7pm. I know, but it doesn't end there. Just because my doors were open at 7am, didn't mean that's when I started my day. I offered a breakfast program that was included in my rates - how many parents, realistically, are able to rush their kid out the door - well dressed and fed a healthy breakfast before 7am? Not. Me. I remember those days and getting myself and my kids ready for the day can be pretty dang hectic so helping parents out in the morning was a good deciding factor when they were trying to decide between choosing my daycare or my competitor. So, I was up at 6am, making breakfast and tidying up before the morning rush started. There was the rare 7pm pick up, but most of the kids were picked up by 6:30pm. I still had my own family to tend to and back then I had a 7 year old, 1 year old and a new born - not to mention the husband - so dinner had to be made, kids fed, bathed and then the bedtime routine. Once the kids were in bed, it was time to clean up the house and daycare so it would be ready for the next day. On some days, I had to get groceries or supplies so I was thankful for the 24 hour WinCo or Walmart where I can get my quiet time in but on those nights, I'd be lucky to be in bed by 11pm after putting everything away. But remember the new born? Oh yah. There was that too. So I didn't consider how much time, effort and energy would go into running a daycare in my home. There was a lot of overlap between my daycare owner duties and my mom duties and sometimes the boundary between them was very blurred - good or bad, that's what it was. Now, to keep my sanity, I did hire assistants to work part-time during the day. Eventually, I started doing the grocery/supply trips during their shift and I made myself take a lunch during nap time. When working long hours, you still need to make time for you. Remember that. Your business and family need you, so take those much needed breaks and lunches.
- What Privacy? Working from home meant my clients would either come to me or I would go to them. Using my home as a daycare didn't give me that option and although we turned the forming living room, located right off the foyer, into the preschool, daycare areas still spilled into the rest of the house. One of our bedrooms became a nap room, the family room was the "infant/toddler" area (my 2 girls were the only ones there), the bathroom (duh) and the backyard were also used. Friday's we called "Fun Friday" which basically was for me and the assistants and the only day we turned the tv on and we played a movie in the afternoon. This was held in the infant/toddler area also known as my family room. With 8 kids, sometimes 11 and 2 assistants, there was nowhere to hide except for my bedroom and even then that's not guaranteed - one of the kids snuck out of the nap room and into my room, found my nail polish box, opened a bottle of navy blue polish and decided to use it as finger paint on my cream carpet. When running a business in your home, be prepared to show your home and workspace to your clients because they are one in the same.
- Damage Control. I just mentioned the nail polish mayhem, here's a few more - our couch was colored on multiple times with crayons, the framed art above my fireplace met a bouncy ball and came crashing down, and the wear and tear on the carpet in the high traffic areas could not be ignored. There was no heads up about any of these things happening on any government site or a "how to open a home daycare" post that showed up on my then yahoo search. It was frustrating, not just for me but for my husband. Even though the house was put together by the time he got home from work, the carpet, drawings and broken items were reminders that a business was ran out of our home and sometimes, we just didn't have control. If you run into these feelings and thoughts of no control in your own home, breathe. You do have options, you are able to make changes. We found those kid proof door locks to put on the knobs, and decided to just replace the carpet with laminate. When you're in the thick of it, take a few steps back and remember - it's your business, it's your move.
Bonus: 3 Tips to Running a Smooth Daycare
If you're reading this because you googled something about opening a daycare - this section is for you (and thanks Google!).
- Policy Handbook. Have one - it's important. And it's important that you update it yearly so the parents know that you're not someone to be pushed around. Even if they don't read it, you can reference back to it as a reminder of how your daycare is ran. Let me give you an example - I had a 3 year old boy who lived less than 10 minutes away. He was having an accident issue - almost everyday - and this particular day, he didn't have a back up set of clothes. I called his Mom to let him know that we put him in a pull up and he didn't have any extra clothes, so he was sitting with a towel wrapped around him. She asked if I can go to her house and pick up the clothes because her sister was there. Because it was less than 10 minutes away, I could've. But - we ran a tight schedule between the lesson plan, snack prep, snack and the assistant taking a break, my lunch and a number of other things; so yes, I could have, but I didn't because there's this thing called boundaries that the corporate world calls policies. She would've known if she had read it that we do not run errands for each family outside of the facility as we are the only ones there to ensure the kids are being taken care of. This little boy was 1 of 8 kids. If we did these quick errands for all 8 kids, what would our day look like? It can take some dedicated work to create a policy but I promise it will be worth having.
- Getting Paid. As I purchased used daycare items from providers that were either upgrading or closing down, I would ask them their thoughts or policies on different things. One of them was payment options. Did they accept government aid and participate in the food programs (if you served a specific menu, the government would reimburse you for those meals) and after some comparison, I decided not to accept either government aid - where the government paid a for all or a percentage of the family's childcare fees or participate in food programs. I don't think there's anything wrong with either one but for my lifestyle - it didn't fit. First of all, all the paperwork and the deadlines. Not my jam. Secondly, although I would need to meet a deadline, it can take them up to 3 months to make a payment so you could essentially be taking care of a child or children for 3 months without receiving payment and I was not in the position to offer that. My bills came in monthly and they too, had deadlines that I had to meet. Because I did provide meals and snacks, I was able to expense it on my taxes. Easy peasy. Another thing to consider is offering families the ability to pay online. Today there are plenty of apps that you can use that don't take out a fee like Venmo and CashApp, back then I used PayPal which a few of the families loved because they could pay monthly or weekly, whichever worked best for them.
- Curriculum to the Rescue! Lesson plans and a curriculum were my saving grace. Each month, we sent home a newsletter home to each family outlining what the month had in store for the kids - parents loved this! Again, this would take some dedicated desk and research time but well worth it. I would plan 2 months in advance which gave me time to book the fire department to come to my home and visit the kids, plan field trips to the pumpkin patch in the fall and water park activities in the summer. Not only did the parents love this, but the kids thrived on the schedule which really was the reason they were so well behaved. It was when they had too much free time that they would get a little rambunctious. By having an assistant, I was able to work on the monthly lesson plans, book special events, and prepare supplies for projects during the day. Without an assistant, I would end up doing it in the evenings.
There you have it, whether you're looking to opening a daycare in your home or a home office for your business, you can prepare all you want but keep in mind you might find yourself in situations that you never even imagined. If that's the case, just pause. It's in that moment you can feel what you need to feel to get your game face on to make the best decision for your business. Although it may seem like you're not in control, you will always have options. It's in those options that you do have control and when the time comes to take control, believe in yourself because you and I both know you know what you're doing.
Already a business owner? What's one thing you didn't expect as a new business owner? Share it in the comments below!